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Making a Splash: At What Age Should Kids Learn to Swim?

Updated: May 30, 2023

In this article, learn about what to expect of swim lessons at every age:


With drownings as a leading cause of death in young children, every kid should learn to swim as early as possible. For parents, it can be tricky to decide when to sign up their kids for swim lessons. Of course, you also want to ensure the experience is positive and that your child comes to love the water, not fear it.

Online, you will read that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises against swim lessons for babies under one year. But elsewhere, you’ll find sources urging you to start as early as 3 months! So what’s the deal here… when IS the best age to start swimming lessons?

In the end, it is your call as the parent. You know your child best, not to mention that several other factors are involved in the choice to begin swimming lessons, such as budget, scheduling conflicts, and your own availability. I get it.

If you do think swim lessons might be right for your family, this guide will break it down for you, so that you know what to expect at every age.

What to expect of swim lessons at every age

Baby swim lessons

Many years of teaching have shown me that most babies under two years won’t learn to swim completely on their own. But parents who sign up their young children for lessons aren’t expecting them to swim the butterfly anytime soon.

So why do they?

Well, they want their baby to become comfortable in the water and lay the proper foundation to allow them to learn to swim on their own later. Experience has shown me firsthand the difference between kids learning to swim for the first time at five and those who begin as a baby. It is huge. Kids who have been in the pool since they were in diapers are less fearful, more confident, learn quicker and, most importantly, enjoy the water way more.

At our swim school in Montreal, we only accept registration for babies after their six month birthday, first and foremost because they need to be able to hold their own head up. If you suspect he or she isn’t yet ready, wait a month or two longer.

Remember that in the beginning, the goal is only for your baby to have fun and gradually get initiated to water. Parents are more than welcome in the water at this age! Swim lessons can be a great time to bond and spend time with your baby. To get the most out of the experience, ask your instructor about tips and tricks for the bathtub so you can continue practicing at home. Babies who enjoy the pool float, and learn to swim, exponentially faster. You want to initiate your baby to water, ensuring it is a positive experience for both you and them. If your kid sees you having fun, they will too.

You can expect your baby to:

  • begin to learn to float and kick on their own;

  • become accustomed to water on their face without swallowing it;

  • learn to hold on to the wall with increasingly less support;

  • develop their motor skills and learn verbal cues such as “kick, kick, kick” and “look up” and “turn”.

2 to 3 years old

At this age, what you can expect really depends on the personality of the child. How much they naturally enjoy the water, how clingy they are to mom & dad, how nervous or how much of a daredevil they tend to be…

At this stage, the most important factors are encouragement and consistency. If you are regularly coming to the pool as a family and enjoying an afternoon in the water, your child will naturally form a positive association with swimming and develop their skills. Don’t underestimate what your toddler can do. Lots of two-year-olds end up swimming on their own several meters under the water, just because they want to impress mom and dad!

The other crucial aspect of consistency is regular interaction with their instructor. At this age specifically (although this is a good rule of thumb generally), toddlers need to feel comfortable with their instructor & build trust in their own abilities, which ideally means weekly lessons.

While some kids take a little longer, I’ve seen many 2 year-olds learn to swim underwater and flip onto their back by themselves.

You can expect your toddler to:

  • begin to learn to float on their stomach and back with little to no support;

  • become accustomed to putting their head underwater;

  • hold and move across the wall by themselves, as well as climb out of the pool safely

  • propel themselves forward with with their arms and legs

4 to 5 years old

Kids 3 to 4 years old can learn to swim on their own successfully quite quickly, provided they have no significant fear of water. If they do, the first step to swim on their own is conquering that fear, and that should be the main objective of the swim lessons.

Another key skill to develop at this stage is the ability to put their head in the water, because that’s the first step to swimming. Goggles can help with this, as can ear plugs if your child is prone to ear infections.

You can expect your young child to:

  • float on their stomach and back by themselves;

  • put their head underwater;

  • control their breathing with bubbles

  • swim a few meters underwater on their own

6 years old +

Children six years and older can learn to swim all the main strokes, as well as develop endurance & speed. If your child really loves the water, they can begin to prepare for competition, if they are interested in going down that route.

At this age, they tend to have developed maturity, so they can also learn first aid safety notions to be ready in case of emergencies. Many of our swimmers at À L’Eau Swim learn CPR, the heimlich maneuver and how to safely assist someone who is drowning.

You can expect your kid to:

  • begin learning all the main strokes;

  • perfect their technique;

  • control their breathing

  • learn essential first aid notions

Swimming pool safety

In conclusion, baby lessons can help them to become comfortable in the water, as well as to begin floating and turning on their own. It also has the added benefit of providing a fun activity to bond with your baby and help them develop their motor skills. Swim lessons for kids 2-and- a-half-years and older can help them learn to swim on their own.

While kids can sometimes self-teach, the benefit of swim lessons is that they instill proper technique. This allows children to swim for a long time without wasting energy, while most methods of self-teach (ie. the doggy paddle) are very tiring and lack efficiency, which becomes dangerous if your child is only half-way across the pool when they become too tired to continue swimming!

While swimming lessons significantly reduce the chance of drowning, it is crucial to keep safety on your mind at all times during water activities (pool, lake, beach). Always have an eye on your kids while they are in or around water, and be close by in case you need to intervene. Have a floating device such as a lifejacket or buoy within arms reach if an emergency strikes. Teach your kids basic safety rules such as always being accompanied by an adult and no running on the edge of the pool.

If you have a pool in your backyard, the most effective security layer is installing a locked fence and keeping the key out of children’s reach.

With these preventative measures you can ensure you’ve created a safe environment for your kids to learn to swim and, ultimately, enjoy the water.

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